When I told fellow travelers that I would be going to Skopje, Macedonia I was met with responses like, “What’s in Skopje?” How long are you staying? You shouldn’t stay long. There’s not much to see.” Many suggested that I shouldn’t visit at all due to its silly reputation as the “Disneyland of East Europe.” People refer to it as Disneyland because unlike most of Europe, many of the buildings are not historical and are fairly new. What many people fail to mention is that Macedonia has experienced several natural disasters that have resulted in the destruction of a lot of the city’s history.
Regardless of its architectural reputation, Macedonia offers a unique fusion of cultures, and that experience alone makes the journey there well worth it. The country consists of influences from ancient Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Turkey making it unlike any country in the region. The Macedonian people have created a culture that pulls practices from all of these places to create their own national identity. Most importantly, Macedonians are some of the warmest and accepting people that I’ve come across during my trek in Europe. While tourism is relatively new to this country, hospitality has been long ingrained in their lifestyles. I can’t remember how many times I was offered a cup of coffee, assistance at the market or help reaching a destination. In my time need, those small acts of kindness spoke volumes about this place.
While there’s much to see and experience in Macedonia, the good news is this country isn’t a bank breaker. I managed to get the full experience without spending much. Here’s how:
Visit The Landscapes
OK…so maybe Skopje has a bit of “gimicky” appearance, but the city is surrounded by mountains and these natural landscapes can’t be made up. Macedonia has some of the most breathtaking views in eastern Europe. From the Vodno mountains, home to Millennium Cross, rivers and fortresses. This country offers a bit of it all.
Have a Picnic At Matka Canyon
If you find yourself in Skopje, it would be worth your while to take a few hours to visit Matka Canyon located approximately 15 kilometers outside of central Skopje. It boasts beautiful blue waters, an affordable motorboat tour to Vrelo Cave, and a scenic hiking route that stretches for miles. Buses to Matka run daily in both directions. I recommend buying a bus ticket for 150 denars (€2.44) which allows you up to three rides throughout the entire city, or you can split a taxi with two other travelers for just €3 each. Entry to the canyon is free (of course ☺️) and boat rides to the Vrelo Cave are 500 denars (€8) per person.
*Before taking off for Matka, I suggest going to Tinex (the local grocery store) and grabbing some food to enjoy a small picnic in the canyon! There will not be many accessible and/or affordable food options once you are there.
Watch the Sunset At Kale
Kale also known as the Skopje Fortress is an ancient fortress that offers important medieval history and a panoramic view of Skopje. Since the Fortress is the highest point of the city this is a great way to see the several different temples, mosques, synagogues and churches that are situated in the city. Walk to Kale right before sunset and be prepared for the best view of Skopje!
Walk Through the Old Bazaar
Skopje has the largest bazaar located in the Balkans. You will find everything from shoe polishing to a wedding dress here. Historically, the Bazaar was used as a place for business for both Christian and Muslim Macedonians to buy and sell things to each other. It was inevitable that this is where many ideas and practices fused together over time. This is still very apparent in the Bazaar as you will find many traditional places serve coffee from cezves.
Eat A Traditional Macedonian Meal In the Old Bazaar
If you haven’t tried the traditional meal, have you really traveled there? Skopje has tons of traditional restaurants to choose from. To my surprise, the dishes offered seemed almost identical to surrounding countries like Serbia and Greece, but with their own flavor added. If you are set on eating where the locals eat, there’s no place to be other than in the Old Bazaar. Once you arrive you will smell the aroma of grilled meat in just about every direction, but I recommend visiting Turist Bar. Turist is quite popular with locals, and their specialty is kebapcinja (little pieces of grilled meat), baked beans, and salad. Turist shares a large terrace with other restaurants so make sure you have a seat and follow your lunch up with a Turkish coffee! A full meal at Turist should cost you no more than 250 denar (€4).
Visit the Bit Pazar
Located at the northern entrance of the Old Bazaar, the Bit Pazar is one of the oldest and largest green markets in Macedonia. This market has stalls upon stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables, dresses, shoes and electronics. Do you need a USB adapter? They’ve got it.
The best time to visit the Bit Pazar is around 9 AM when it opens for the day. The small walking spaces are less crowded and the pace is much slower for those who want to stop and enjoy the market. You will notice that many of the shop owners are friendly and willing to let you sample how fresh their fruits and vegetables are. It’s not uncommon to leave with a full stomach!
In addition to what has been listed here, there are several museums that offer valuable information about Macedonia. Many of them require entry fees, but I would highly suggest that you learn about Skopje through the people, the food and the culture there. If you are looking to partake in a brief yet informative tour of the city, coordinate a budget-friendly tour with Travel Mode ON. Elena is a native Macedonian who is well informed on the history of the city. In addition to knowing her way around, she can cater the walking tour to your personal interests.
If you were unsure if you should visit Macedonia I hope your question has been answered! The warmth and vibrancy of this country are things that can not be seen, but rather felt and experienced.
Until next time,
The Pint Sized Traveler